Recently, as part of my daily exercise during lockdown, I undertook a walk to one of those places I’m ashamed to admit I had never been to before: Brymbo’s Mount Zion. This is because it is a set of streets and a farm one doesn’t pass through: it is not en route between places I’ve gone to by car. Also, I had (wrongly) estimated from maps that Offa’s Dyke was inaccessible at this location. In any case, even if accessible, I had presumed the Dyke was heavily denuded/covered with vegetation and it wasn’t worth seeing. How foolish and wrong I was! This is because, upon finally visiting, I can confirm that my reservations about vegetation and a lost ditch were indeed well-founded but that the monumental scale of the surviving bank and the tremendous landscape context of this location blew me away.
First, while the Dyke is covered in trees and bushes and the farm and track has overlain the ditch, the surviving bank is high and broad. Thus, while denuded, it was clearly once parallel in scale and magnitude to some of the greatest stretches of the monument surviving to the south in Shropshire, Powys and elsewhere. Likewise, the scale is comparable with the stretch upon which the B5101 road is built between Llanfynyd and Treuddyn (Flintshire).
Second, while overshadowed by Hope Mountain to the north, which reaches over 330m OD, Mount Zion is a significant eminence in its own right from whence it dominates land immediately to its west and the valley of the Cegidog to the north at over 225m OD. Equally significant: the eminence affords long-distance views eastwards to the Mid Cheshire Ridge and thus would have not only been important in surveiling and controlling movement in its vicinity but also long-distance communications throughout western Mercia. While Offa’s Dyke rises to greater heights above sea level, as around Carreg-y-big and Baker’s Hill west of Oswestry, I now understand Mount Zion to have been absolutely crucial for appreciating the careful landscape placement of Offa’s Dyke to control and communicate forward and back from its line, but also along its route. In this last regard, I was struck by the fact that, from Mount Zion, one can see almost all of the length of Offa’s Dyke north as it skirts Hope Mountain through Ffrith and Llanfynydd to Treuddyn. Moreover, Halkyn Mountain and Moel y Gaer hillfort is visible in the far distance, from which the Flintshire coast can be observed.
Building off points one and two, my third point relates to the fact Mount Zion was node where the Dyke shifts its long-distance alignment. Specifically, from these heights, Moreover, this is a point where Offa’s Dyke’s behaviour changes, and rather than dropping to the Cegidog and gaining higher ground to skirt Hope Mountain, the Dyke follows the Cegidog north-north-west before disappearing where it is heading for Treuddyn. Whether this is indeed the final stretch of Offa’s Dyke, or indeed it went further northwards towards Prestatyn (as some now are suggesting once more), this location was key. Hence, I would argue that this was a major sighting point in laying out the Dyke to which the monument had been aiming for all the way from where it struck north from the Dee south-east of Ruabon.
All this also underpins the strategy significance of not only Mount Zion, but Hope Mountain which was encircled but not incorporated into Offa’s Dyke.
I have a video coming out 28 May to support this discussion.
Incidentally, this spot was significant in the Bronze Age: the remains of ‘Brymbo Man’ were found on Cheshire View nearby.